Financing a CMU Education

HUB staff emphasizes compassion and care for families

When Ricardo Tucker decided to pursue a degree in computer science, his parents, Lorena and Richard, were excited for their son, but felt concerned about the high cost of college. Once Ricardo fell in love with the School of Computer Science (SCS) at Carnegie Mellon University, the Tuckers began a deep, personal relationship with the staff from the Division of Enrollment Services (The HUB).

Lisa Krieg, associate vice president and director of Enrollment Services and International Programs, says it’s common and understandable for prospective families to feel concerned about the cost of attending CMU. Krieg frequently asks people how much debt, on average, they think students have when they graduate. Inevitably, someone will guess a six-figure sum, and Krieg welcomes the chance to correct their misconceptions.

Busting Student Loan Myths 

Nearly half of CMU students receive grants, according to the January 2019   CMU Enrollment Bulletin. And even more impressive, the average CMU grant is $40,286, a figure that doesn’t include federal or state grants - the university awards over $100 million in institutional grants annually. The average student borrower graduates with a total debt of $31,342, representing 11.3% of the total cost for four-year tuition, fees, room and board. "While we recognize that this amount can be significant to a recent graduate, our alumni have been extremely successful in repaying these loans," said Krieg. 

It’s no secret that CMU graduates earn higher salaries than the national average in many fields. But in order to get their diploma, students and their families first need to pay those tuition bills. Krieg is quick to emphasize how seriously her team takes the commitment of paying and borrowing to finance a CMU education. She said, "We pride ourselves in working with families to navigate the complex and often difficult process, both while in school and post-graduation."

The HUB staff works hard to educate families and help them plan for all aspects of the financial aid and loan processes. The result?

"We have one of the lowest loan default rates of any university in the United States," Krieg said. "Over 99% of our graduates are paying off their loans in a timely manner or deferring them to attend grad school. We all read concerning news articles about people with college loans who are unable to purchase a home or start a family. This is not reflective of the experience of CMU graduates."

The Tucker family: Richard, Natalie, Ricardo and Lorena. Throughout both children’s education at CMU, the Tuckers have worked with The HUB to identify all possible financial aid opportunities.

Blending Fiscal Responsibility with Compassion 

"Ricardo definitely knew CMU was the right place for him," Lorena Tucker said of her first child’s college application process. "His financial aid package played a big part in our decision for him to attend." Krieg explains that the family-facing staff in The HUB focus on compassion, relationships and sound advice.

Using a college model that assigns specific financial aid counselors to all families within each academic college at the university, staff members in The HUB build connections with students and their families all four years the student attends the university. "Nobody wants to re-explain their family’s financial difficulties to a new person every semester," Krieg said. "It can be emotional and hard, so we try to ease the situation as best we can by providing a constant and knowledgeable contact in The HUB."

Families like the Tuckers can call the same person every time they need to ask questions or discuss changes in circumstances. The Tucker family was assigned Melissa Skasik, assistant director of Enrollment Services, and relied on her throughout Ricardo’s experiences as an undergraduate.

By the time their second child, Natalie, applied for early decision at CMU, the Tuckers had questions about what it meant for Natalie’s aid package when Ricardo began a master’s program at CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center.

Skasik typically only works with students enrolled in the College of Engineering, but the Tucker family requested to work with Skasik again, even though Natalie was enrolled in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. "Melissa is just so flexible and caring," Tucker said.

Krieg emphasizes that the Tuckers are far from the only family to build attachment with The HUB staff. Krieg said Skasik and her colleagues "get invited to graduation parties. People send heartfelt thank-you notes, and when families are on campus, they come in to say hi."

Krieg feels proud of the personal connection staff builds with CMU families. "Our model really allows for the business of the university to be conducted in a thoughtful and personal way," she said.

Fleixbile and Responsive

Lorena Tucker emphasized that having both her children attend CMU has been a "wonderful dream," and she is thankful for all the opportunities that her children have had as Tartans. "They’ve explored opportunities and found their passions."

Tucker credits her family’s strong relationship with The HUB staff with helping to make these dreams a reality.

Because the Tuckers had built such a strong relationship with Skasik, they felt comfortable calling her when their financial situation took a turn - both Lorena’s and Richard’s aging parents developed challenges and the Tuckers found themselves having to provide unexpected financial support.

People often come to The HUB staff in similar times of great vulnerability, and are met with empathetic and solution-focused open arms. Skasik said, "I always try to think how I would want someone to interact with me if I were in that situation. I want families to understand they are my priority." Skasik helped the Tucker family search for every available resource and ensure they filled out all forms correctly to determine aid amounts based on federal formulas.

When it does come to borrowing, Skasik makes sure her families understand the differences and the implications surrounding each type of loan. Skasik and her cohorts are supported by dozens of  individuals in Enrollment Services who work behind the scenes helping to calculate aid eligibility and handle other administrative matters that keep financial aid, billing and registration matters flowing smoothly.     

"I wish we had called Melissa right up front," Lorena Tucker said. "She really helped us with a long-term outlook and understanding the impact of different variables on the kids’ aid packages."

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